When should you link another blogger?

The discussions of copying norms and new bloggers reminds me of something. Well, several things. First, it reminds me to urge you to check out the Economics of Contempt blog, a new econ blog. Its shadowy proprietor and I had a rather . . . er . . . spirited exchange last Thursday regarding the Coase Theorem (If you're not familiar with the topic, I highly recommend this interview with Professor Coase from Reason). He argued that libertarians invoke the Coase Theorem much too freely, when it cannot actually be fully applied to the real world.

I replied that while I think the theorem does have a lot of valuable insight to offer into economic and regulatory problems, I quite agree that it is far too often applied profligately. In a world with unequal endowments and non-zero transaction costs, you need a lot of modifications before it can be usefully applied. However, in the conversation in question, zero transaction costs were among the more reasonable assumptions being made--it was one of those conversations where by the time you're done, you've had to give everyone an in-brain computer in order to fully explore the basic philosophical questions. I didn't mention this because it wasn't really germane to the point of the post, which was about normative justice intuitions, not The Coase Theorem and Land Use.

He updated his post, and we parted friends.

The next day, as you may recall, Kathy G. unleashed a rather . . . er . . . spirited criticism of the same post, with basically the same point: the Coase Theorem isn't realistic. We . . . well, I wouldn't say we parted friends.

Which brings me to the second thing I was reminded of: an email I received from the Economics of Contempt's shadowy proprietor the other day.

I saw that you linked to a post by Kathy G in which she trashes you for not having the courtesy of linking her. Well, I thought you'd be interested to know that Kathy G actually stole her post about the Coase theorem from me (I write the Economics of Contempt blog that you commented on yesterday). I looked at my blog traffic last night, and I thought it was odd that there was someone from Chicago who had looked at my post about your use of the Coase theorem 5 times, because I really didn't think it was THAT interesting. And when I read Kathy G's post about the Coase theorem and saw that she used the exact same obscure Ronald Coase quote from 1981 that I used, it was a dead give-away. I looked at her traffic, and sure enough, she has the same IP address as the person who looked at my post about the Coase theorem 5 times yesterday. I find it hugely ironic that she would excoriate you for not linking to her on one day, and then lift the majority of her post from someone else without linking to them the next day!

I honestly don't care whether Kathy G links to me or not -- I had never even heard of her until today. I started writing my blog to amuse myself, not to gain internet recognition. And I'm not big on calling people out for their linking practices, since I'm a little unsure of the proper linking etiquette myself. But if you're going to attack someone for not following the proper linking etiquette, you should probably wait at least 24 hours before you steal a post from another blog without linking to it.

In a follow up email, he added:

Here's why I'm 99.99% positive Kathy G was the person from Chicago who looked at my post 5 times yesterday (other than the fact that she says on her blog that she's from Chicago). The person's IP address was [redacted], and that was also the IP address of the first two entries from Chicago I saw on Kathy G's blog this morning. That person found my post the first time by searching for "'preference maximization' and coase," and Kathy G harped on your use of the phrase "preference maximization." The third time that person looked at my post she had searched for "mcardle coase transaction."

Kathy G used the same two quotes from Coase that I did, including the really obscure 1981 quote. Of course, Kathy G also quoted Coase's next sentence from the 1981 essay, which I didn't, but that's probably because I LINKED TO the paper when I quoted it.

I wrote in my post: "The Coase theorem "dictates"? ... It's a neat trick, and a lot of libertarians I know use it, but it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Coase theorem."

Kathy G wrote in her post: "But to argue that the Coase theorem "dictates" anything in the real world, as per McArdle, is to grossly misunderstand it."

I think that's more than enough to say it was her, but you're probably a better judge of this kind of thing.

Note to all new bloggers: this sort of thing is generally, at least in the blogging circles in which I travel, considered to be rather poor form. Worse, indeed, than accidentally neglecting to provide a link to someone you have already conceded to exist.

That doesn't excuse me for forgetting the link--I shouldn't be so careless on that score. But if you use substantial parts of another blogger's post, you should mention that you found it somewhere else. Direct paraphrase without even attempting attribution is regarded with less horror by bloggers than it is by English professors . . . but not all that much less horror. Especially since linking a source is a lot faster and easier than footnoting.

The answer to the question I posed in the title is, basically, "Always!" As Nick Gillespie noted yesterday, "there's no cost to acknowledging sources—if anything, it's a sign of erudition and plugs an author into a broader network of thinkers." Besides, as he also noted, if you go over the line you're very likely to be caught.